County's price reflects true value of private lands...


September 24, 2000

County's price reflects true value of private lands

Shepherds Mill Road is a local county road being designed and constructed to reduce rail and heavy truck traffic in Union Bridge and provide better access to the Lehigh Portland Cement plant.

Without such redesign, increased production at the cement plant would seriously impact transportation and the quality of life the Town of Union Bridge.

The state of Maryland has budgeted $3.5 million for the project, which is justified because it would enhance economic development and benefit Union Bridge, Carroll County and the state of Maryland.

Some time ago, Carroll County allocated $1.5 million for local participation in the project.

The most logical and cost effective alignment for the new highway and rail line connections would run them through through the middle of a private landowner's property.

The principal farm buildings on the subject farm are immediately adjacent to a portion of the highway/rail line to the west.

The farm buildings are further divided by a separate railroad right-of-way to the east which will literally create an "island" of the farm buildings that comprise this family business. Access to the farm buildings and operation center will be limited over the new public road and rail lines.

The new roadway and rail lines will also require considerable grading and changes to existing to pography, resulting in slopes and other undesirable impacts to the remaining land.

Much of the property has been previously zoned for industry and conservation but was not for sale. The owners are farmers who use their property for their agricultural operations and their homes.

The county approached the landowners to acquire the needed land and easements. After the landowners evaluated the impact to their lives, homes and businesses, they assessed their property value and total impact to their business and personal life to be $1 million.

They considered and voiced concerns about a major loss and disruption to their business, substantial traffic from heavy trucks and the public, rail traffic, potential for accidents and conflicts with their families, employees, livestock and equipment on a daily basis as they attempt to continue their lives and livelihoods.

The two appraisals obtained by the county fell woefully short of placing a value on the impact to the owners' personal lives, their business and their land..

The county appraisals were $121,500 and $133,425 for approximately 25 acres.

But realistically, the county, state, town and the industry are creating immeasurable impacts on this family and their business.

We are not only purchasing land that was not for sale, but we are also purchasing a part of a business and imposing obstacles to its farming operation which will last forever.

When the appraised value was offered to the landowners, their response was, "we don't need or want a road and railroads which run through the heart of our property." Increased offers were made and rejected.

Negotiations appeared to be breaking down and the state was suggesting that if we were not going to proceed with this project, they would like to know so the money could be used on some other project. My staff suggested that I should consult with the landowners to see if there might be a middle ground for an agreement. I asked what it would take to make the deal.

The landowners expressed a feeling that since Lehigh Cement Co. was a substantial beneficiary, that company should substantially participate. Lehigh did participate by purchasing adjoining property which provides a partial realignment and reduction of the length of the new road.

At that point, the commissioners decided to increase our offer to the landowners.

It has been alleged that I told the landowners to hold out for $1 million. I did no such thing.

I never personally made a specific offer or committed the county to anything.

I reported my conversations with the landowners to the other commissioners, and we jointly discussed the negotiations.

Finally, after many hours of discussion and debate, a motion was made, seconded and approved by unanimous vote to meet a negotiated price of $850,000 for the county's participation in this project.

Alternatively, the county might have pursued condemnation in court. This process would have been time-consuming and very costly and it's outcome would have been uncertain.

Without a timely resolution of this matter, Carroll County might have lost $3.5 million from the state of Maryland.

Our county participation is now $850,000 rather than $1.5 million originally allocated.

Donald I. Dell


The writer is a Carrol County commissioner.

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